Principals need principles

Leave it to the sports world to remind us of the powerful difference between principal and principle.

by Howard Robertson and Larry Robinson | 2/14/2015, 12:39 p.m.
Leave it to the sports world to remind us of the powerful difference between principal and principle.
Pete Carroll

The homonyms principal and principle are often confused in spelling and definition. Perhaps it’s easier to remember that a principal is someone or something that is the primary and most important. On the other hand, a principle is a basic truth, a moral rule or a law of nature. Although they sound the same, these concepts are powerfully different, as we have seen in the sports world over the past few weeks.

Of the same ilk as Tyson, Tiger, Venus, Serena Williams and Peyton and Eli, Bill Belichick was a prodigy. As the son of a football coach, he was raised to coach pro football. While Robert Kraft owns the New England Patriots, there has never been any question whatsoever about who operates the Patriots’ organization.

Belichick has been the principal of the Pats and principally responsible for all football operations since Day One. This is the reason he was personally fined $500,000 by the NFL in 2007 for “Spygate,” while the team was only fined $250,000. Although he apologized profusely to Patriot ownership and fans for his “mistake,” conspicuously absent from his remarks was any apology whatsoever to his former team, the New York Jets, who were the victims of the spying.

As the New England Patriots principal, Belichick failed the principle. Twice. First, the principle says, “Do not spy on your competitors and steal their signals.” Then it goes on to say, “Be man enough to apologize to those against whom you have committed an injustice.”

Fast forward to 2015 and the AFC Championship game pitting New England against the Indianapolis Colts at home in Foxboro, Mass., where eleven of the twelve game balls are mysteriously, yet noticeably underinflated.

“...any current or past player of mine would tell you the balls we practice with are as bad as they can be – wet, sticky, cold, slippery. However bad we can make them, I make them.”

That’s what Belichick said, yet he expects the world to believe he neither knew nor had anything to do with the footballs for the conference championship game?

Meanwhile, back in Glendale, Ariz., Pete Carroll’s principle failure was a lot less character driven. Or was it?

Like Belichick (and the Eagles’ Chip Kelly), Carroll is one of only three NFL coaches breathing in that powerful, rarified air of coach and general manager. Nevertheless, he is truly known to everyone as a “player’s coach.” He’s had incredibly close almost fatherly type relationships with his players both as a collegiate as well as an NFL coach. So it is definitely not out of character for him to want the best for his players.

Perhaps that was his motivation in Super Bowl 49 with his team one yard away and possessing enough time and timeouts to comfortably repeat as Super Bowl Champions. Marshawn Lynch had almost gotten them into the end zone but now it was time to see if his younger “son” Russell Wilson could add Tom Brady’s head to Peyton Manning’s on his Super Bowl slain elite quarterback belt.